Alchemical Invocations: Interview with Tattoo Artist Henry Hablak

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Alchemical Invocations: Interview with Tattoo Artist Henry Hablak

Talented tattoo artist, painter, and illustrator Henry Hablak talks about his artistic philosophies in this exclusive interview.

Have you ever been alone in the forest or desert, far from civilization, and felt what it must have been like for the first humans to wander this incredible landscape? To think of the awe and wonderment they must have experienced when facing birth and death, natural disasters, and more...things that we now cast off with so much scientific explanation. 

Henry Hablak's work speaks to those ancient feelings, those long forgotten primitivist inclinations to explain the world through magic and myth. Dotted with symbols, sigils, and hermetic incantations, Henry's tattoos meld the philosophies of old with the art form of tattooing, a skill that we often forget has such esoteric roots. 

What were you like as a kid? Were you always artistic and how did this lead to tattooing?

I’ve been drawing since I was really little but I never had any direction with it as a kid besides trying to copy comic books and stuff.  One I got a little older and figured out that you could make a living drawing on people, that was pretty much it for me in terms of what I wanted to do.

How would you describe your style and what artists, films, books, etc. would you say are your main influences?

My style is influenced by traditional tattooing, mythology, anthropology folk art and lately the occult.  Obviously I’m influenced by older dudes that came before that have paved the way, but lately I’m really trying to look outside of tattooing for other reference material.  I have a huge library and spend a lot of time at museums, anywhere I can get inspired. Mostly it’s religious imagery because every culture makes it, and I’m fascinated by the similarities of it all.

What do you love about tattooing and the tattoo community?

So many things.  Tattooing has given me everything I have.  I’ve met some of my best friends and got to travel the world from doing this, not to mention it’s supported me and let me feed my family.  I couldn’t imagine doing anything else, and I feel pretty blessed for everyone that gets tattooed by me and continues to buy my stuff.

I love that a lot of your work comes seems super researched, like the piece inspired by the Phrygian cult ‘Attis’. It's like archeology and sociology meets tattooing. How did you become interested in such diverse subject matter and how does it influence your work?

I love reading weird shit haha.  History is so weird and the history of religion is even weirder.  I love finding these stories and imagining what life must have been like for some of these people.  When I was younger I gravitated toward fiction and fantasy but if you read a lot of ancient history you can see where a lot of that stuff comes from.  Mythology is like ancient sci fi, and themes are always universal.

Symbols, like the swastika, have been appropriated, abused, and can sometimes be easily misunderstood, but they are a common aspect of your work. What is your working philosophy when it comes to symbols? How do you use them so skillfully and what advice do you have for others who are trying to do the same?

I don’t really use the swastika because it’s such a charged symbol, but it is one of the oldest and multiple cultures have used it. I think people should know what a symbol means if they’re going to draw it, but I don’t think they have to know what it means for it to look cool.  I like figuring out the meanings of things, but symbols mean different things to different people. So I try not to spell it out for people and let them make their own interpretation. Lately I’ve been researching alchemy and using a lot of those symbols in my work.

How do you spend the time you’re not tattooing? What do you wish you had more time for?

I like to spend time with my family and paint, that’s pretty much all I do haha.  We just moved to Philadelphia so I could spend more time at home and less on the road.

Any projects, collabs, guest spots, etc. coming up that you’d like to share?

2018 has been a busy year.  My good friend and amazing tattooer Gus, @degusted on Instagram, just opened a private studio, Magic Eye Tattoo, in Philadelphia where I will be taking appointments full time.  I will be doing an art show in Taos, New Mexico in late September. I am also currently working on a book of paintings from this year that should hopefully be out around January.

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